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Bristol to lead on national composites centre

Artist's impression of the National Composites Centre

Artist's impression of the National Composites Centre

Announcing the project (from L to R): Professor Michael Wisnom, Director of ACCIS; Jim Knight MP; Professor Guy Orpen, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research); Ian Lucas MP; Sir Harry Studholme, Chair of SWRDA

Announcing the project (from L to R): Professor Michael Wisnom, Director of ACCIS; Jim Knight MP; Professor Guy Orpen, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research); Ian Lucas MP; Sir Harry Studholme, Chair of SWRDA

Press release issued: 26 November 2009

The South West has been named as the location of a new National Composites Centre (NCC) as part of the UK Composites Strategy, announced today (26 November). The Centre will be led by the University of Bristol in partnership with industry.

The NCC marks a further milestone in the development of a low-carbon economy. It will be an independent, open-access national centre to help deliver world-class innovation in the design and rapid manufacture of composites and enable widespread industrial exploitation.

The Centre will form an international hub, linking activities across all sectors of the UK in research, education and training, technology transfer and incubation of new enterprises.

The state-of-the-art Centre will be supported with £16m of public-sector investment comprising £12m from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (the Strategic Investment Fund announced in the last budget) and £4m from the South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA). Public-sector investment will be supplemented with contributions from some of the world’s leading engineering companies.

The South West was selected as the Centre’s location because the region is one of the most significant developers of, and investors in, carbon-fibre composites, and has some of the most important and advanced end-users and exporters in the country. It is estimated that in excess of £450m has already been committed in composite-related investments (from the public and private sectors) in the region in the last six years.

SWRDA will oversee the construction of a purpose-built, 6,000-square-metre facility with workshop space, open-plan offices, meeting rooms and teaching facilities, in collaboration with the University and industry partners. These ‘First-Tier’ partners currently are Airbus, GKN, Rolls-Royce and Vestas. The Centre will be located in the Bristol area and will be operational by 1 April 2011.

Jim Knight, Regional Minister for the South West, said:

‘The University, in partnership with international partners, has already made great progress in the development of new industries and technologies in the region. For example the Composite Structures Development Centre which is part of National Composites Network based in Airbus at Filton has already developed cutting-edge wing design for the international market.
The region already has a high level skill base in the aerospace sector. By offering the workforce increased training, through in-company training and Train to Gain, we can achieve this exciting skills transfer through this new centre.
I fully support the region's   high aspirations for our low-carbon economy and this new centre will go along way in developing and designing light materials across a number of key sectors. This includes green technologies and by bringing our universities and businesses together, the region will continue to be a pathfinder in developing new composite materials in the UK.’
Sir Harry Studholme, Chair of the South West RDA, added:

‘This is great news for Bristol, and the South West. Composite materials provide huge opportunities for our industries to develop. They bring new approaches to existing industries to help them remain competitive on an international stage as well as opening up new avenues for developing businesses. As a national centre the NCC will provide a focal point for the research and development of composites. It will build on the strong base the UK already has in this sector, and will provide the opportunities for scientists, technicians and businesses throughout the country to work together.’

Professor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University, said:

‘We are proud to be playing a central role in the establishment of a facility that will be of major significance to south-west England and the UK as a whole. It will reinforce our already close links with industry and yield a range of academic, economic and practical benefits.’

Further information

  1. The University has an international reputation in the field of composites and has engaged with more than 90 companies working in this field over the past five years. It has strategic partnerships with First Tier partners Vestas, Rolls-Royce and Airbus, as well as Agusta Westland and GE Aviation, in addition to research partnerships with universities including Bath, Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College. A Composites Doctoral Training Centre has just opened at the University with £7m funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. A new, £5m extension to the Queen’s Building is being constructed to provide room for expansion.
  2. The South West RDA leads the development of a sustainable economy, investing to unlock the region's business potential. It is helping companies respond to the economic crisis and chart a course for recovery. The RDA is developing or expanding initiatives which include establishing a Business Loan Fund, coordinating the response to large companies in difficulty and preparing for economic recovery.
  3. The commercial applications of the NCC ‘products’ will include:
      Wind-turbine blades – improved performance of materials used in blade manufacture and dramatically increase the speed by which they can be manufactured
      Aerospace – deposit 30 kilos per hour (of composite material) over complex shapes and reduce weight by up to 20 per cent by optimising design
      Marine – design ship hulls with greater slamming resistance
      Off-shore oil and gas platform repairs – develop lay-up (production) techniques suitable for use in wet, hostile conditions
      Construction – develop design competence and large-scale manufacturing techniques
      Automotive – develop mass production solutions for low-weight, energy-efficient structures and complete structural body-shells
      Defence – lightweight armour.
  4. Advanced composites is a generic term for materials manufactured from high-performance fibres, such as carbon fibres, which have been pre-impregnated with suitable resin matrices. The fibres are used to create woven or stitched fabrics or tapes which are then used to manufacture components, structures and tooling by applying heat and pressure. The advantage of composites over traditional manufacturing materials is that they provide the freedom to design structures of optimum performance, in complex shapes, at lower cost and with significant environmental benefits. Composites combine strength and lightness with unrivalled versatility and flexibility.
  5. Composites combine different materials to provide enhanced properties. For example, carbon fibres in an epoxy plastic matrix give high stiffness, strength and durability with low weight, making them very attractive materials for high performance structures.
  6. Composites are particularly important to achieving the low-carbon agenda. For example, the use of composite materials in aircraft structures will reduce weight, increase fuel efficiency and, ultimately, lead to a reduction in emissions. Additionally, the use of composite components in wind and marine turbine blades enables will improve the efficiency of various applications in this field.
  7. An artist’s impression of the Centre can be downloaded until 11 December.
Please contact Dara O'Hare for further information.
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